My Journey Defines Me
This testimonial may be dark and too deep for some, but I may be able to touch a few with my story… With great humility I must set aside my insecurities and fears in the hopes of helping clients, friends, family all while helping me heal; over time.
Depression can feel like the largest stack of bricks resting on your heart, and, in my experience, the uncontrollable reason for me to shut down emotionally.
The source of my depression is intensely sensitive and only important in the sense that it put me on the journey I have endured since I was 17, latent and brewing from that time until finally surfacing when I was 19. Therefore, I will continue to keep it private and appreciate the respect you could show me on the topic, everything else written will be fair game for discussion.
When I am caught under the pressure of depression, my motivation and performance suffer drastically compared to the “good days”. Personal, professional and physical goals are left unaccomplished. I lack the desire to progress, develop and move forward on my path. As you can imagine, it becomes a downward spiral where one affects the other. The lack of motivation equals fewer workouts, and fewer workouts leads to a deeper depression.
On the other end, anxiety can feel as if that same ton of bricks rests directly on your chest. It prevents me from taking a full breathe or the ability to moderate my heart rate. I would almost prefer depression to anxiety because in a depressed state, my body and mind don’t feel anything whereas my heart takes a beating when I am anxious. In an anxious state, my mind and heart won’t pounding a million miles an hour. Yet another vicious cycle that affects sleep patterns and deprives me of the rested state I need to perform at my best the following day, weeks and months.
I know that I am not alone, and far from it. The World Health Organization states that 6.9 million adult Americans suffer from depression. More than 18% of Americans have episodes of anxiety and it has a wide range of causes, like the one I suffer from – post-traumatic stress disorder.
I was 19. I was away from home trying to pursue my college degree in History when I broke emotionally, calling my father. I spilled over into anguish and sobs the moment my parents welcomed me home. At the time, pouring out my heart to the most important people in my life was the first step to begin the long climb back up from the bottom and knowing that I would always have their support meant everything.
I saw a psychologist for a time and received a prescription for Prozac. I didn’t even make it trough the whole prescription before I decided that I wanted to beat my struggles on my own, healthy and free of prescription drugs.
In the summer of 2008, I pondered going back to school to finish my degree. Amazingly, my parents were even more supportive than anytime before in my life. Knowing me the way they did, they knew what it would do for Madison, my daughter, and me. Yet, I still had no clue how much they were right.
I learned so much attending Metropolitan State University of Denver even though I wasjuggling classes, a daughter, a full time job and a relationship.
As it turns out, I was simply repressing all the angst, anxiety and depression by pushing through, willing myself to finish the hardest part of the journey to date. I was unaware of and ignored so much during that 3 1/2 year stretch of my life including much-needed workouts that would have managed my anxiety and depression. I don’t regret missing out on the social aspect of college compared to the deterioration depression was causing on my self-esteem and personal relationships.
In the spring of 2012, I interned at the University of Denver in their strength and conditioning department as part of my degree. A few things I was able to take away from the semester was that I learned how to train athletes for strength, power and speed.
Every day, I went to that internship doubting whether or not I would finish my degree, probably because I never once heard positive feedback or gained applicable knowledge from their overwhelmed staff. I woke up at 4 am twice a week and before 6 am on the other three days arriving without direction or stated purpose in the facility. I was able to observe the coaches in a NCAA Division 1 collegiate atmosphere for 475 hours during the last semester of college, but the whole time I was anxious over whether I would ever reach my goal.
I learned invaluable lessons from their strength coaches, but what I learned about myself has meant more than their brief teachings. I realize now that I was at the height of my anxiety and depression during that time, incensed because I lacked confidence to see my future developing in front of me.
I did not start working as a personal trainer immediately after graduating college. I was still working nights at a restaurant and bar that helped put me through school. As a result, I was in relationship that was not healthy, exercising irregularly and drinking way too much.
And then two things happened.
First, my ex-wife took me to court to gain more custody of our daughter, costing me $6000 in lawyer fees just to keep her in my life. Second, my mother, Sandi, asked me to meet her once a week at a local gym to train with her, paying me for my services.
I jumped at the opportunity to put a little extra money towards my lawyer bill. In her own subtle way, my mother led me to the path that would change my life permanently. We were approached once by a trainer who asked if I was training her, I claimed no, I was “just working out with my mother”. The next time we spoke, Sandi asked me to find a more private gym for our training and that is what led me to find Blunt Force Training, a private studio space in the heart of Denver.
She was my first client to commit to two days per week and eventually increasing to three days each week. To say that Sandi is an inspiration is unflattering to the term INSPIRATION!
I know it would be an understatement to say that I have come far these last 18 months of my career. From working nights and weekends at a local restaurant to full-time personal training is something I never thought was possible. And it almost wasn’t possible because I was juggling two jobs, mornings and nights, Madison and an unhealthy relationship. It’s a fact, my depression and anxiety eventually caught up to me in September of 2013, forcing my live in girlfriend to move out suddenly and causing me to change my entire lifestyle.
The NUMBER 1 change I needed to make was diet. The first step, I began cooking almost all of my meals at home. Second, I decided to stop drinking for three weeks, which ended up being critical for the success of my business and personal life. Guess what happened? I lost 15 pounds in those three weeks, launching me into a new routine and dedication in the gym.
The NUMBER 2 change I needed to make was to moderate my drinking. I chose to eliminate alcohol from my lifestyle choices. Alcohol truly is a depressant, leaving me without a sense of self and causing me to make unwise professional and personal decisions. A part of this decision was to remove coffee from my daily routine. Coffee is a stimulant with additional toxins that I cannot bring into my body while attempting to balance my anxiety. When I don’t consume these two beverages, I am more consistent and seem to never have a bad day. I’m looking for more days like that!
The NUMBER 3 change I needed to make was my perspective. Instead of focusing on me, I focused on the service I was able to provide my clients and their overall health. That breakthrough came when I suffered significant injuries for the first time since my childhood.
You may see developed muscles where I only see INJURIES! I see a repetitive motion condition, medial epicondilitus in both elbows prevents me from working the weak points in my back muscles. In turn that prevents me from reaching my personal goals in the power clean, pull-ups and other posterior chain dominant exercises.
I also see a herniated adductor that prevents any strength gains in all lower body power exercises and because of a knee injury any type of running is difficult.
This has been the origination of my most recent bout with depression and anxiety. My sense of self is encouraged and defined by my performance. I train like an athlete, which means I feel like an athlete and that means I suffer like an athlete. When an athlete is injured and prevented from competing, he feels disconnected from teammates, friends and family. I FEEL THAT. I EXPERIENCE THAT. It has led to a different level of depression and anxiety.
Instead of falling deep down into that vicious cycle of depression, I relate to my clients and their roadblocks with a more personal connection. This improves my perspective when it comes to training other people, athletes or not.
I believe in my clients wholeheartedly, which forces me to believe in myself wholeheartedly. I am so surprised that this reverses the process of depression and anxiety that I have always experienced before now.
And I owe it all to exercise.
My Fitness Career has Become My Lifestyle Choice
Depression and anxiety in my life is not self-diagnosed. As I said before, I saw a psychiatrist for a time receiving direction, reading materials and techniques to combat my symptoms.
I perform a version of self-treatment via exercise because of what I learned earning my Exercise Science degree in 2012. There are bountiful benefits of exercise for diseases that Americans face including heart disease and diabetes. This tutorial is specifically about depression and anxiety and the effects exercise has therein.
The Top Reasons to Prescribe Exercise for Depression and Anxiety
1. Boost Self-Esteem– By far the most important reason to exercise is self-efficacy. Feelings of fear and inadequacy are what bring me down the fastest, which inspires me to request feedback often.
2. Exercise reduces stress– Each and every workout I design for myself is high intensity such as interval training with resistance exercises and 2-3 boxing classes per week.
3. Improves sleep– Throughout college, anxiety destroyed my sleep patterns. Tossing and turning until 2-3 am nightly affected performance in class and prevented me from reaching my goals in a timely manner. Since graduation in 2012, I added a melatonin supplement to my daily routine and increased the intensity of exercise which has made a huge difference.
4. Improves muscle tone and strength- Progress, gains and reaching fitness goals drastically improves my confidence over time, eliminating the depressing and anxious thoughts speeding through my mind and heart.
5. Reduces body fat– A combination with diet and exercise, a positive body image can greatly improve feelings of self-efficacy.
6. Strengthens heart and lowers blood pressure- Having high blood pressure logically raises stress and anxiety, but because of exercise I will prevent those feelings and a premature death from heart disease.
7. Increases energy level- Just as the downward spiral is continued without exercise, the opposite is true when I have a great routine and motivation with exercise. The more exercise in my life, the more energy I have to put into the success of my business and personal life.
8. Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression- I implement the higher intensity exercise into my fitness routine to take a break from reality for that hour or so. I never used to spoil myself with “me time” until this year, knowing that in order to achieve my business and personal goals I must feel deserving of that time set aside for me.
9. Builds stronger bones– Resistance training places stress on bones, bending them and strengthening them without breaking. Red blood cells are formed in the marrow of our bones increasing the importance of strong, healthy bones.
10. Look better, feel better- Since October 2013, losing 15 pounds of the unhealthy weight the compliments have increased dramatically. You better believe that makes the self-esteem increase over time.
What’s Next for Me?
Let me finish by stating that this is the hardest thing I have ever done; writing a very personal tutorial about why I utilize exercise to combat depression and anxiety.
I would also like to acknowledge Abby Watkins of Abby Watkins Photography for the amazing photographs. They far exceeded my expectations and I feel they could not have come at a better time for me personally or professionally.
Even as I write these words to be read publicly for the first time, I’m filled with an anxious feeling. The difference here is that it is nothing compared to the immense pressure I have felt during this journey. I feel exposed and raw; natural and vulnerable but with the utmost confidence that I perform to the best of my ability as a father, friend, coach, son and leader that I possibly can. Only with exercise has this been possible, and with great thanks I extend the credit to those that lead me to this point in my life. Don and Sandra Glaser, Joe Quatrochi, Tiffany Coolidge, Ty Sonaty, David Gates, Sarah Perkins, Selena Jameson just to name a few.
I have included new passions in my self-treatment of depression and anxiety, one of which helps more than any of the others… Boxing.
Boxing provides me stress relief, cardiovascular endurance and a new challenge to learn. Boxing keeps me fresh and competitive against myself. By no means am I an expert boxer, but it allows me to set my sights on the future instead of the past. It encourages me to strive to be better than I used to be, as a man, as a father and as a trainer.
“Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”